Online Exclusive: New York Times’ Mark Bittman chats with the Vanguard

Mark Bittman writes the weekly New York Times “Minimalist” column, and is the author of multiple cookbooks.

Mark Bittman writes the weekly New York Times “Minimalist” column, and is the author of multiple cookbooks. He wrote the food bible “How To Cook Everything,” as well as “Kitchen Express,” “Food Matters”and the just recently released “The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes For Better Living.” He was at Powell’s City of Books last night, and I managed to catch up with him.

Daily Vanguard: For many home cooks, including myself, you have become the go-to source for cooking. “How To Cook Everything” has become my generation’s “The Joy Of Cooking.” How did you gain so much information on food? It must have taken you years.  

Mark Bittman: Well, I started cooking when I was 20 years old. It took me from when I was 22 to when I was 45 to get all the information…I began writing about food at around 29 or 30, so I had a lot of background in it. I worked very hard on it.


DV: Your new book states that a conversation with your doctor kick-started your new way of living and eating. Was there one moment that made you decide to share this cooking style with your readers?

MB: You know, it’s what I do, I write about this stuff. If it’s changing the way I eat or think of food, it’s going to change the way I write.


DV: How can home cooks who have taken on a mostly-vegan lifestyle (as you encourage in your new book) convince others to share these beliefs? How can you get them to eat the new kind of food that they’re not used to?

MB: Well, the first question, I have no clue. What I can say is that we eat vegan meals all the time—spaghetti is vegan food, salad is usually mostly vegan food, it’s not like there’s no one who doesn’t ever eat vegan. You just have to keeping talking and telling them this is the way things are things are going to get better, by eating more plants. As for getting people to eat your food; well, cook it so it tastes good. If you’re nice enough to cook them good food, people should appreciate that no matter what it is.


DV: Is there a meal or snack have you been making nonstop lately?

MB: I was obsessed with spaghetti and fresh tomato sauce for a while at the end of tomato season. These days, I’m interested in soba noodles, in a Dashi broth. I’ve been preparing it all kinds of strange ways; I’m still playing with it.


DV: I have found that your recipes have a very distinct voice. Do you believe that a recipe can have a tone to match its writer?

MB: Well, first of all, thank you. You’ve answered your own question though, I think. I’ve worked hard to learn how to write recipes and have a clear have voice that feels like me. I write the way I speak. Recipes deserve to be treated like real literature, and I try not to write them like a technical manual. It matters the way it’s written.


DV: You are one of the few food writers famous for cooking-based writing, instead of restaurant reviews. Do you see a future for more food journalists in your field?

MB: Well, I’m certainly not the first one to do this. I sure hope so—this is an honored field—it was at its low when I started doing it, and I sure hope more people can. I hate to say it, but chefs don’t write great recipes. Journalist and writers do it well, and I think they should.


DV: Do you think there will be more Food Matters-style cookbooks in your future or perhaps a column with that focus?

MB: I think that’s the way I’ll be cooking in the future, so it’s what I’ll be writing. “Cooking Matters” is not the last word for me or anyone else. Lessmeatarian, semi-vegan, whatever you want to call it, the movement is new and I think we’re going to start seeing a change.


Bittman’s new book, “The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes For Better Living,” is in stores now.